Redress did not just happen. The $20,000 payment and apology did not fall out of the sky or just appear out of the goodness of the government’s heart. It was won by a long struggle by many people who wanted to see justice done for the thousands of Japanese American incarcerated during World War II.
The campaign for justice was not just waged by Japanese Americans but by all people in this society that make up the diversity that is America. Chief among this group of non-JAs was Congressman Mervyn Dymally, who represented a constituency in the Compton/Gardena area. An African American of West Indian origin, Congressman Dymally became a staunch advocate of redress, going so far as to launch his own redress bill while working closely with the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR).
As an early member of NCRR, I first met Congressman Dymally in Little Tokyo when we were notified that he wished to join us at one of our regularly scheduled meetings. He was, in fact, on his way to “J-Town” and we were pleasantly surprised when his aide, the musician Johnny Otis, came in to let us know that Congressman Dymally would be up to our meeting as soon as he parked his car. Most of us at the meeting grew up listening to Johnny Otis with his wildly popular radio program and his hit number “Hand Jive.”
Dymally came through the door almost unnoticed as we raised a fuss about Johnny Otis, who seemed genuinely tickled that we remembered him at all.
But Dymally was not perturbed that his aide was the center of attention. He, in the years that I watched him, was always a humble man and a man of the people and a genuine fighter for justice. After an hour of discussing issues pertaining to redress and his assurance that he would do all he could to support us, he rose to go. He then handed me a check to help support NCRR as we worked to mobilize the community!
How often do you see that! Not only did he come to Little Tokyo to look us up, but he also contributed to the cause! He was instrumental in keeping the Black Congressional Caucus supporting redress for Japanese Americans through the years instead of dwelling on “What happened to our 40 acres and a mule?” — a redress promise made to African Americans after the Civil War.
In subsequent years, he hired NCRR member Miya Iwataki as a congressional aide and threw open his office to us when we converged upon Washington, D.C. in 1987 to lobby for the redress bill.
As I said, redress did not just happen. We were lucky to have so many Americans of all backgrounds join us in this cause for justice. As many try to stake a claim of their importance for the cause of redress, I want to take this moment to remember and thank former Congressman Mervyn Dymally for his indispensable contributions.
I was there to see a lot of it and as frugal as I am, I had to break out my checkbook and contribute to a new small memorial built in his honor at the Mervyn M. Dymally School of Nursing at Charles Drew University in South Los Angeles, because I know I would never have received redress and an apology without the support of people like him.
I know most of you, like me, have spent your redress money a long time ago, but if you can find it in your heart to remember someone that went to bat for you when it counted, any contribution to his memory would be the right thing to do. Donations can be sent to: NCRR, 231 E. Third St., Suite G-104, Los Angeles, CA 90013.
Jim Matsuoka is a long-time member of National Coalition for Redress/Reparations, now known as Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.